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What you need to know

Conference Semifinals begin with Union-Cincy, El Trafico

The 2022 MLS Cup Playoff Conference Semifinals begin tonight, starting with first-seeded Philadelphia hosting fifth-seeded FC Cincinnati at 8 pm ET on FS1 and FOX Deportes. Then first-seeded LAFC welcomes the Galaxy at 10 pm ET on FS1 and FOX Deportes for the El Trafico of all El Traficos. Check out the full schedule here.

D.C. United part ways with general manager Rushton

D.C. United have parted ways with two key sporting figures – general manager ​​and head of technical recruitment and analysis Lucy Rushton, as well as first-team performance director Victor Lonchuk – after the 2022 season. The decisions come after D.C. United finished bottom of the overall MLS table. The Eastern Conference club is preparing for a first full season (2023) under head coach Wayne Rooney, who joined in mid-July.

Philadelphia Union's Glesnes named 2022 MLS Defender of the Year

Philadelphia Union center back Jakob Glesnes has been named the 2022 MLS Defender of the Year, becoming the club's first-ever player to receive the honor. The 28-year-old Norwegian was a vital piece of MLS's most dominant defense, as the Union allowed a league-low 26 goals (for an astounding +46 goal difference) en route to clinching the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Philadelphia Union's Blake named 2022 Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year

Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake has made history. The 31-year-old Jamaican international has won the 2022 Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, making him the first player in MLS history to receive the honor three times. Blake first won the award in 2016 before claiming it a second time in 2020.

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What to watch for as Conference Semifinals begin

We’re staring down the barrel at one of the single greatest nights in MLS playoff history. You don’t need to be convinced to watch, but here are a few things to keep an eye on when you do.

The adjustments to the adjustments to the adjustments?

You might not remember, but back in August, right in the middle of the Union’s total war march through MLS where they were winning games by four or more goals every other game, FC Cincinnati mollywhopped the Union. Final score: 3-1 with goals from Brandon Vazquez, Brenner and Alvaro Barreal.

In their first meeting back in June, Cincinnati went into Subaru Park and pulled out a 1-1 draw. The Garys are the only team in the East that didn’t lose to Philadelphia this season. And they accomplished this miracle by…well, honestly, just being really good. They didn’t reinvent themselves for these games. They were simply comfortable without having the ball and more than capable of being effective with the ball with limited possession. That’s a really solid formula for getting results against a team as direct as Philadelphia.

Of course, all of that is kind of hand wavey vague tactics nonsense compared to the actual truth of the matter. Cincy had Lucho Acosta and the Union didn’t. In their 3-1 win in August, Acosta picked up an assist on all three goals. It’s a lot easier to create key chances with limited possession if you can win the ball back and your tactic to relieve pressure is “Screw it, Lucho’s down there somewhere.” Basically, Cincy either found Acosta directly or sent the ball forward to Vazquez, whose typically great hold up play allowed him to find Acosta. Once they were in the final third and out of harm's way of the Union press, things got a lot easier.

Obviously though, if people like me who are looking at the situation from a mile-high view have a general idea of what made Cincinnati effective, then Union manager Jim Curtin has extremely detailed thoughts on every possible aspect of what made Cincinnati effective. Plus he’s had a little extra time to prepare thanks to the Round One bye. The Union will have a game plan in place that they feel will slow down what Cincinnati used to beat them last time.

Of course, Curtin-protege and FCC manager Pat Noonan will know that. And he’ll have a game plan to counteract the game plan that the Union will put in place to counteract the game plan that they used last time and…uh…well, it probably just goes like that until it makes a big ole circle back to the same place we are now.

So it probably just comes down to how each team handles the other’s fastball. There won’t be any elaborate tricks here. Can the Union slow down Vazquez, Acosta and Brenner? Will Alejandro Bedoya’s potential absence play a critical role? And does any of it matter when the Union have Andre Blake in goal?

The answer to that last question has generally been “Nope.” But that didn’t stop Cincy a couple of months ago. It doesn’t feel likely, but maybe it won’t stop them tonight either.

The El Trafico of El Traficos

There’s so much here yet so little. We know that Banc of California Stadium is going to be as insane as it's ever been. We know that the field is going to be covered in stars. And we know that really anything we can project about the game doesn’t really matter because [gestures broadly at every El Trafico ever.]

That doesn’t make it less fascinating, it just makes it kind of straightforward. Things are going to get weird. But that weirdness won’t entirely keep us from finding out the answer to a couple of key questions. Do LAFC know what their Best XI is? And can Riqui Puig and Gaston Brugman really make all the difference for the Galaxy?

As far as LAFC goes, it seems like they were sorting out that Best XI right at the end of the season. Some tinkering and experimenting from head coach Steve Cherundolo led to some interesting results down the stretch, but it would be surprising to see too many changes from the group that beat Portland to clinch the Supporters’ Shield in their penultimate game then piled on 30 (!!) shots and more than 4.0 xG against Nashville in a game LAFC somehow lost. That means a front three of Denis Bouanga, Chicho Arango and Carlos Vela and a midfield of Kelyn Acosta, Ilie Sanchez and Jose Cifuentes. And maybe they start Giorgio Chiellini at center back over Jesus Murillo. So that would leave them stuck bringing Latif Blessing, Gareth Bale, Mahala Opoku and Cristian Tello off the bench. Sheesh.

The important thing though is that they seemed to find some of the cohesion they’d been lacking down the stretch. We’ll see if that translates to a playoff atmosphere after an 11-day break.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy will look to Riqui Puig and Gaston Brugman to save the day in midfield. Kind of like they’ve been doing since the pair arrived late in the year. Puig has been one of the single-best attacking players in the league since he arrived and Brugman has solidified the Galaxy’s midfield in a way they haven’t been able to solidify things in…maybe years. They seem more balanced and more dangerous than they have in a long time and, ya know, even that doesn’t seem like it will be enough to get past LAFC on paper. Just being honest here.

But this is El Trafico, and the Galaxy have taken huge leaps forward over the last few games. It’s not like you have to stretch all that far to find a timeline where the Galaxy come out with a win.

In the end though, I don’t think you try and worry too much about any of the details. I think you just sit back and enjoy the show.

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